Tuesday, 24 July 2007


cyntillating sounds opus nine

The road to take from Boston to their symphony's summer home in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains is the Massachusetts Turnpike, beautiful but habitually clogged with trailers, campers, and most certainly, classical music lovers. We prefer the long and winding Route 20 West, a scenic thread through picturesque colonial towns with unexpected names like Dalton, Chester, even Peru.

The Tanglewood music festival has attracted thousands of visitors every summer since its first season in 1937, and that is literally thousands, 300 thousand in 2006. An average symphonic concert is attended by 15 thousand, 5 of which are lucky to have a roof over their heads, the others taking their chances with New England weather. But when that is glorious, as it often is in the summer, the heavens add their own sparkle to performances; Tanglewood's lawns are halfway up the Berkshires, far from annoying city lights, dark, dsitinguished, with breathtaking views.

This past weekend, the BSO had an all Beethoven programme scheduled featuring a stunning series of soloists which included the Beaux Arts Trio and soprano Christine Brewer. On Saturday afternoon, this working man's Glyndebourne is already packed, the lawns are dressed out early for pre-concert extended picnics: candles, flowers, wine galore and masses of finger food. We saw a baby no older than a month, and many easily in their nineties. All camped out for a concert they could not hope to see, but could certainly hear through a marvelous sound system that can deck even the farthest corners of the lawns.

Here Bostonians meet New Yorkers as Tanglewood is strategically centered in between these two major cultural centers. The festival itself has attracted other arts institutions over the years, most famously Jacob's Pillow, the dance phenomenon, making the Berkshire mountains the thinking American's camp site par none.

Tonight we happen to have real seats; elderly volunteers assist us in finding them with grace. The symphony orchestra looks like it has huge numbers of new players; considering the performance in hindsight, we can only conclude that these are all remplacants, filling in for vacationing soloists. The Beethoven heard was certainly not up to BSO standard with its messy woodwinds and slouchy strings. Hans Graf was a pleasure to watch, but even simple down beats were never together, let stand powerfully so as Beethoven rightfully deserves.

After a terribly disappointing Leonore Ouverture, things took a marvelous turn for the better: out marched the venerable Beaux Arts Trio with its nestor pianist Menahem Pressler looking as eager as ever. Cellist's Antonio Meneses first phrase immediately set the stage for a gutsy, powerful and elegant performance of Beethoven's unwieldly Triple Concerto. The musicians were obviously having a grand time performing one of their standards to the huge crowd who had welcomed their mere appearance with bravo saldos. And Pressler, the pianist with the pearly touch, perfectly rounded out violinist's Daniel Hope's bravura and Meneses' stunning sound. Grand festival fun.

The second half began with a truly marvelous Ah! Perfido, Beethoven's dramatic concert aria performed to perfection by Christine Brewer. Simply gorgeous, and enough of a thrill to carry us through the uninspired second symphony that followed. Amazing programming actually, following up a triple concerto with yet another major soloist. But then again, the Boston Symphony has the cash to back it up: Tanglewood alone brings in over 50 million dollars a season to this well-endowed and well-run American arts institution, and we, on this New England summer evening, star-studded on both the stage and in the heavens, were determined to return soon.

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